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How Wikipedia Policies Are Institutionalised

The final AoIR 2009 session for the day is on Wikipedia (hmm, so few papers on Wikipedia at this conference - why? just because Twitter is the Next Big Thing now?). We begin with Lindsay Fullerton, who notes the trends in Wikipedia which have been able to be observed over the past few years. In particular, edits of Wikipedia policy texts have substantially increased over time, to the point where there is now more work on Wikipedia policy edits than on actual articles; additionally, of course, there has been a massive growth of Wikipedia editors, levelling off now and standing at around 180,000.

This paper, then, focusses especially on the policy of notability (which demands that topics are notable if they are to be included in the encyclopedia). Under this rubric, there are further guidelines for entries on music, people, and other topics, and within people againt for academics, athletes, entertainers (and within this for pornographic actors), etc. How did this policy develop?

The development of such policy can be described as institutionalisation via structuration, even in spite of changing memberships and roles within the institution itself. In this, institutionalisation is the process by which organisations persist, and structuration describes a duality of structure and action (and it is an iterative process oscillating between the two).

The "What Wikipedia Is Not" (2001) policy was the first to mention the idea of notability; a first notability (of people) page was first created in 2003. Non-notable articles are tagged for deletion, with the Article for Deletion (AFD) tag; this may request speedy deletion (in obvious cases) or require a debate and vote on whether the article should be deleted. The votes are finally acted upon by a Wikipedia admin.

Lindsay's group focussed on 50 AFDs each in November 2004, 2006, and 2008 (two years before a notability policy proper, around the time it was introduced, and two years later), and examined the votes and commentary during the deletion processes. In 2004, on 6% of articles contained policy references, 78% in 2006, 86% in 2008; there was also an increase in the number of distinct policies mentioned (from 3 through 17 to 34 policies). Votes citing no rationale for the voter's choice disappeared completely by 2008, and the word count of vote justifications (and thus, complexity of discussions) also increased substantially over time.

This points to a gradual institutionalisation of Wikipedia policies; they became a tool to socialise incoming editors into Wikipedia processes, and so to facilitate consensus and integrate new members into Wikipedia culture.

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